How to Solve Your Traffic Stress

Isn’t travelling stressful? I have done more of it in the past few days than is normal for me. I flew back from my holiday and all which that entails, coach transfers, sitting around in small airports with tacky or overpriced shops and nothing much to do except eat Pringles. Just a few days later I am on a bit of a road trip which has required me to use the M25 and various other Southern motorways, at breakfast time, in the rain. It’s been a little slow.
Stress creeps up on us in unexpected places but it also visits us because we invite it to, expect it to. Stuck in a traffic jam is such an occasion for many of us. We expect to get stuck, we do get stuck and we anticipate the stress that inevitably befalls us.
On the radio this morning, following news of a motorway closure and subsequent 20 mile tailbacks, the cheerful announcer said soothingly “if you’re stuck in that lot, we share your pain”. Well, apart from the fact that he almost certainly didn’t, why is it that traffic delays are always a cause for frustration, disgruntlement and annoyance? I wonder if there might not be a way to reframe our experiences sometimes that enable us to see them as something more positive.
Many years ago I was stuck in an horrendous traffic jam on the M6. I didn’t move for what felt like a lifetime. Having begun with the inevitable fog of frustration and despair, the thought of meetings missed and a late arrival home I realised that my reaction to unavoidable delay was a classic self defeating behaviour. Who was suffering here? Only me. I thought for a few moments and decided to try and do something positive with this “spare time” I had been afforded. I taught myself to whistle. Not the standard “o shape mouth” whistle, but the proper “curl the tongue and really let it rip” type. It was not only extremely satisfying but very useful in retrieving the somewhat neurotic dog I had at the time who had a fondness for running off into the undergrowth and failing to return. Without that traffic problem and the stress that it initially induced I would probably still be a feeble whistler today.
By way of a more dramatic and tragic example a friend of mine was killed in a road accident some years ago. It was on a deserted road with no other cars involved and so nobody ever really knew what had happened. I confess that I still wonder about it to this day. Did he lose concentration? Did he swerve to avoid a rabbit? Was he going too fast and misjudged the corner where the tree stood that he hit? I will never know but whenever I think of it i am reminded of the old saying that it is better to arrive late than not at all.
In our busy lives I suspect few of us consider time for reflection, relaxation and contemplation to be in over supply. I like to think that getting stuck can often be seen as a gift rather than a curse. Of course there are times when it is genuinely inconvenient and upsetting but, be honest, that is not the case every time you find yourself delayed is it?
Wherever I go I always take a notepad and a book so that if I am held up I am able to use my time to think about my life, where it’s headed and whether that’s what I want. In the maelstrom of day to day existence many of us tend to just keep moving without a thought around whether it’s the direction we had intended or desired. I also use breathing exercises when I am stressed or frustrated by delays. It might sound a bit “hippy” but it works.
Concentrating on your breathing tends to slow it down and bring a calmness to you that you may find surprising. I like to use colour in my exercise and I imagine breathing out a colour I don’t like very much, let’s say beige for example, which represents frustration and stress and anxiety. Then I breathe in a colour I like such as green, to represent purity, positivity and energy. You might be laughing at me now, am I beginning to scare you? Well, give it a go because you might be surprised. I do know a bit about stress management after all.
So if you’re stuck in traffic anytime soon or delayed at an airport, or in a doctors surgery try and reframe the experience. Think of it as an opportunity to spend some time with yourself. Breathe, think, reflect, plan, smile and enjoy the peace. If none of this lights your fire why not teach yourself to whistle and get a neurotic dog. I suspect you will be glad that you did.